Are Booking.com and Google betraying your vacation rental? Here's what you need to know

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Not so long ago a marketing mix in the vacation rental business was a couple of simple adverts. Now it demands attention to all elements of online and even offline exposure.

Today we have to manage pricing and availability across multitudes of marketplaces, keep on top of social media, use Pay per Click, direct mail and combine this with multimedia skills, psychology, languages and copywriting. Not something many universities cover as a single subject!

At the centre of this mayhem is Google which represents the most important online entry point and has successfully monetised the search positions via its hugely successful Adwords and AdSense programs.

Adwords and Adsense

The major marketplaces pay astronomical sums to be seen and spend huge amounts on organic positioning and brand development. As an overview of main industries, the link below demonstrates the astonishing amount of money spent.

http://www.ppchero.com/what-americas-fastest-growing-companies-spend-on-google-adwords-new-infographic

According to Word Stream, Booking.com (now a serious player in the VRH – Vacation Rental Harmonised market ) spent over $40m in 2011. http://www.wordstream.com/images/google-earnings.png

This graphic from AdGooroo website shows the major travel players impressions in 2012/3:

Top Travel Paid Search Advertisers

This may not appear terribly relevant, but remember the drive to simple pricing and real time availability means many of these companies are now in the VRH space. If you are knowingly or unknowingly compliant, then top advertisers may end up bidding on your rental based on the differential success to commission opportunity.

Top advertisers may end up bidding on your rental based on the differential success to commission opportunity.

The travel industry is one of the larger markets as shown by this graphic:

UK Top Subcategories By Spend  January & June

With prices as high as £50 per click (that’s not a spelling mistake), Google and other PPC search sites are seeing some pretty healthy revenue!

But what about organic positions ~ SEO & SEM?

Google has still retained organic listings on its search pages, even if they are harder to achieve in the face of increasing monetary spend from large corporations.

There’s a wealth of advice on SEO and a very few rank highly without spending a penny on PPC. However, this is becoming harder and whether you are an SEO or an SEM person, both now appear to be at the mercy of Google’s gravy train. This Forbes article is an excellent explanation of the trend and challenges.

Whether you are an SEO or an SEM person, both now appear to be at the mercy of Google’s gravy train.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2013/11/04/the-aftermath-of-seos-death-this-summer

We all know that one thing, Google is good at is indexing for search. Naming your property distinctly can help people search for your vacation rental easily and find your own website, with the possibility of direct and more profitable bookings and control.

If Google shows 10 listings on your screen, the top three are paid and the remaining  7+ are of no monetary value to Google. The ones to the right hand side are of course an option, but we all know the top have the highest CTR. Here is a snapshot of a popular destination in Google. If you were using a small screen device, 9 of the 12 placements are paid. Now try your mobile device!

Paid adverts are dominating search results

Koh Samui Paid Search is Dominating

There are no owner/manager organic listings (only marketplaces) here, but there are millions of destinations and these see more focussed opportunity for SEO and SEM.

[mailmunch-form id=”104857″]

Below is an example of a more focussed destination, “Lake Como” and “Villas” (high commission values, volume search). The first organic listing, which is not a marketplace, ranks at the bottom of the page (Lake Como Homes.com) and the top three PPC results are up to $10 per click depending on time of year!

The first organic listing, which is not a marketplace, ranks at the bottom of the page (Lake Como Homes.com) and the top three PPC results are up to $10 per click depending on time of year!

Organic results are hard to find

Lake Come Vacation Rental Search Breakdown

Now lets drill down to less well known destinations, with much fewer  properties and we start to see different results. The local website at the bottom (Shaldon-Devon.co.uk) has the 1st organic search position, however the paid results and local Google mapping information has pushed it way down.

Local SEARCH results are pushed below mapping

Localised results are pushed below paid and mapping

Google’s PPC Conundrum

The organic positions is a conundrum for Google as they’re torn between their original mission statement:

Focus on the user and all else will follow.

Since the beginning, we’ve focused on providing the best user experience possible. Whether we’re designing a new Internet browser or a new tweak to the look of the homepage, we take great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line.

– Google

And actually maximising profits.

They place ads everywhere, with little space left (even less on mobile). Their initial ethos was based on great search results and even they know relevant results are also found outside huge corporations. These corporations own search results and push the most profitable service or product, not the most relevant. The net effect is negative as searchers seek the best results… You cannot fool all the people, all of the time.

The obvious option is to monetise organic search results! Which is only possible with a commercial connection to organic listings that companies are willing to pay for.

In the vacation rental and hotel industry (and no doubt others), Google have managed to both monetise and dilute the importance of your own organic positioning. Why would you bother to spend time and effort if your listing ended up costing you commission? For some owners and managers its already happening and like most things search is a stealth strategy.

Google have managed to both monetise and dilute the importance of your own organic positioning. Why would you bother to spend time and effort if your listing ended up costing you commission?

Enter organic listing monetisation

Here is a random example of how this is already happening. I searched for “Hotel Villa Pandora Amalfi” and as expected Booking.com came up first as they bid on the hotel/villa name. After a couple of the usual culprits the first organic listing appears, which is the hotel/villa itself.

The example is shown below: Do you see the £151? Click on this and the drop down appears pushing a Booking.com ad with check-in and check-out fields. The owner is just about to lose 15%+.

Google Organic monetisation

To all intents and purposes Google has allowed Booking.com to appropriate all their hard work! This is compounded and assisted by their map to the right, which shows exactly where the property is, but offers booking via Booking.com.

Google more info on Villa Pandoroa

To all intents and purposes Google has allowed Booking.com to appropriate all their hard work! This is compounded and assisted by their map to the right, which shows exactly where the property is, but offers booking via Booking.com.

If you wish to avoid this (and I assume most people would see this as a negative), then you need to ensure that none of the companies you allow to book your property are allowed to bid on your property’s keywords.

Rest assured as we move to a multifarious future, where all marketplaces endeavour to share in your booking income, your property identification is of paramount importance. Working hard that so that your own website is seen, may result in both Google and the marketplaces making more money from your toil!

This is not particularly new and is part of Google’s Hotel Finder developments, but as the hotel marketplaces are now in our space, expect some attention:

http://www.google.com/ads/hotels

How To Avoid Corporations Stealing Your Hard Work?

Owners and managers need to be aware of these trends and make strategic decisions on how they wish to develop their business. Focussing on all the excellent advice from across the net and the industry experts will see benefits. There’s danger points in any strategy and they relate to extended marketing.

1. Generic Property name

If you name your property personally and distribute it to any of the commission sites, they’re likely to bid on your property name and be placed above you as an advert, unless you outbid them! We know some sites make the property name generic to avoid direct searching already and this reduces their need to spend on PPC.

2. Demand they not bid on your property

Delivering direct traffic to your website is still the best approach, but any agreement on further distribution must include a clause that they may not bid on your property name. This stops the adverts on straight Ad PPC and on any good organic listings you may have.

3. find names they can’t bid on

Consider your Title Tag, content and the whole property name as there will be names they cannot bid on and if they do may may also help you!

We have more suggestions, however they aren’t for public consumption. Sign up to the regular newsletter and join the organic vacation renters!

What’s distressing about the whole exercise is that your business search gateway is predominantly Google. They hold the keys to your property’s success either direct or via marketplaces. The more marketplaces you are on, the more chance there is of re-direction and loss of control and income.

How to overcome these developments, creeping controls and industry degeneration is a matter of collaboration and challenge by the industry members. This we will look at in our next post.

Richard Vaughton for Rentivo.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/discoveryholidayhomes

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